Justice Department and City of Ferguson, Missouri, Resolve Lawsuit with Agreement to Reform Ferguson Police Department and Municipal Court to Ensure Constitutional Policing
The Justice Department and the city of Ferguson, Missouri, today jointly filed an agreement resolving the United States’ pending lawsuit against Ferguson. The court-enforceable decree, filed in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Missouri, aims to remedy the unconstitutional law enforcement conduct that the Justice Department found during its civil pattern-or-practice investigation into the Ferguson Police Department (FPD) and the Ferguson Municipal Court. The department’s findings were released in a public report issued March 4, 2015.
“The American people must be able to trust that their courts and law enforcement will uphold, protect, and defend their constitutional rights,” said Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch. “The filing of this agreement marks the beginning of a process that the citizens of Ferguson have long awaited – the process of ensuring that they receive the rights and protections guaranteed to every American under the law.”
Under the agreement, Ferguson will implement reforms to bring about constitutional and effective policing, promote officer and public safety, ensure fundamental fairness and equal treatment regardless of race in the municipal court and foster greater trust between police officers and the communities they serve. The areas covered by the agreement include:
- Community policing and engagement: creating a community engagement strategy that requires meaningful engagement between FPD officers and all segments of the Ferguson community.
- Bias-free police and court practices: requiring implicit bias-awareness training of all court staff and FPD personnel and ensuring that Ferguson does not discriminate on the basis of race and other characteristics.
- Stops, searches and arrests: ensuring that FPD’s stop, search, citation and arrest practices adhere to the Fourth Amendment and do not discriminate on the basis of race or any other protected characteristic; and prohibiting Ferguson from developing or implementing any law enforcement action in order to generate revenue.
- First Amendment: protecting all individuals’ First Amendment rights, including their right to record public police activity, lawfully complain about police activity free from retaliation and engage in lawful protest.
- Use of force: reorienting FPD’s use-of-force policies toward de-escalation and avoiding force except where necessary; re-training all officers; and thoroughly, objectively and timely investigating all uses of force.
- Officer supervision: requiring close and effective supervision of officers; requiring FPD officers and other personnel to wear and use body-worn and in-car cameras; and requiring supervisors to review camera footage as part of misconduct and force investigations.
- Accountability: requiring Ferguson and FPD to fully and fairly investigate all allegations of officer misconduct and take corrective and disciplinary action.
- Civilian oversight: establishing a Civilian Review Board to review, make findings and recommend disciplinary action for investigations of complaints involving excessive force, abuse of authority, the use of discriminatory slurs and other misconduct; review FPD policies and training plans; serve on officer hiring and promotion panels; and review crime, racial profiling and complaint data.
- Officer assistance and support: ensuring that officers are provided ready access to support services, including physical and mental health services, and requiring Ferguson to develop protocols to ensure that officers are provided relief support during public demonstrations and periods of civil unrest.
- Recruitment: requiring Ferguson to develop a recruitment plan that will assist FPD in attracting and retaining a highly-qualified officer workforce.
- Mental health crisis intervention: requiring that Ferguson and FPD implement and train officers in specialized responses to incidents involving individuals in mental health crisis.
- Data collection, reporting and transparency: requiring FPD to collect the data on its operations needed for it to continue to learn and improve upon its police and court practices;
- School Resource Officers (SROs): ensuring that Ferguson SROs have the skills to work lawfully, productively and fairly with youth; requiring SROs to divert students toward alternatives; and minimizing the use of force in schools.
- Municipal court reform: enacting reforms to ensure that municipal code enforcement is driven by public safety, not a desire to raise revenue; implementing an amnesty program for all open cases and associated warrants initiated prior to Jan. 1, 2014; eliminating unnecessary fees and altering the court’s fine and warrant practices to ensure due process; increasing transparency of court operations; eliminating the use of secured money bond; ensuring that no person will jailed for being poor; and ensuring the independence of the court from the city prosecutor and the impartiality of the municipal judge.
An independent monitor to be selected by the Justice Department and Ferguson will assess implementation of the consent decree, provide technical assistance to Ferguson and report on Ferguson’s implementation of reforms through periodic public reports. The consent decree requires two consecutive years of compliance by Ferguson before the agreement can be terminated.
“Ferguson residents and police officers deserve a law enforcement system that serves their entire community fairly, safely and effectively,” said Principal Deputy Assistant Attorney General Vanita Gupta, head of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. “The Department of Justice looks forward to working closely with the city as we implement this landmark agreement to ensure that real reform becomes a reality for all people in Ferguson.”
The Justice Department’s investigation uncovered a pattern or practice of unlawful conduct by the FPD and the Ferguson Municipal Court, including: violating the Fourth Amendment by conducting stops without reasonable suspicion and arrests without probable cause, as well as using excessive force; violating the First Amendment by interfering with the right to free expression and the right to record public police activity; and violating the 14th Amendment by engaging in racial discrimination, in both police and related court activity, as well as violating individuals’ due process and equal protection rights in court. The civil investigation was conducted by attorneys and staff from the Civil Rights Division’s Special Litigation Section.